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The Great Escape

The Great Escape (1963)

July. 04,1963
| Adventure Drama History Thriller

The Nazis, exasperated at the number of escapes from their prison camps by a relatively small number of Allied prisoners, relocate them to a high-security 'escape-proof' camp to sit out the remainder of the war. Undaunted, the prisoners plan one of the most ambitious escape attempts of World War II. Based on a true story.


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The first half of the movie "The Great Escape", namely the build-up for the escape, is slow and overlong. Also, some scenes lack credibility in the sense that the Germans are too nice to the allied prisoners. The second half, that is to say, the escape process, is much more taut, realistic and breathtaking. The plot is beyond the expectation of the audience, which makes perhaps the greatest prison break film of all time.


Film-making in the 1960s was a different exercise than it is today. It was more about "putting on a good show" and appealing to a wide audience instead of focusing on certain key groups. Back then, families went to movies together as "outings" and the movies were required to play as such. Sometimes, this leads to strange casting and watered-down plots. Other times, you get a movie like "The Great Escape", which combines perfect characters, music, and an intriguing plot to produce a masterpiece of its time.For a basic plot summary, "The Great Escape" is set at a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp where all the "break-out artists" are holed up together. Eluding the eyes and ears of the guards, the inmates start to work on getting out. Bartlett (Richard Attenborough) is the ring-leader, while other key roles are played by Steve McQueen, James Garner, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and James Donald. To say anything more about the plot would be to give away too many key details.This movie is such a classic because it does so many things right, including:-Some of the best acting performances ever assembled in a single picture. Not a single scene is wasted due to all the on-screen talent. -Despite the tense setting, a sense of humor shines through (mainly coming from McQueen's character). -A plot that will have you on the edge of your seat. You can instantly identify with the characters, so you find yourself rooting for them as the escape plan builds and builds. -Not being predictable. You will think you know how this movie is going to end, but it throws you enough curveballs to always keep you off-balance.For a nearly three hour movie, "The Great Escape" never seems to lag or get boring whatsoever. It also features a score that contains a tune you will be whistling for days afterward. Basically, it is the type of movie where everything (cast, music, plot, direction) comes together for a perfect storm of film-making. If you are sometimes wary of WWII capers or older movies in general, do not let that stop you from watching this one. It is one of the best.


I don't claim to have been in WWII—or maybe I was, during a past life— but this I know for sure: life in a German POW camp had nothing to do with what we see in TGE, let alone a POW camp where they had gathered Allied airmen. See, at a time when Allied warplanes were bombing German cities to dust the German populace had developed a deep hatred for all them and when they had the chance to get their hands on one of them the poor sap was lucky if all he got, before the local military came to get him, was just a good beating. In fact a number of them were lynched by irate mobs. Not to mention that many had had to bail out from their burning planes and then land on mud, water, bushes; had to spend hours, days, hiding in barns, forests, running for their lives, before being caught. And that some of their camp wardens had suffered themselves the effects of their bombing, lost homes, probably dear ones because of it and so were in no mood for youthful pranks. Not, life wasn't a picnic in those German POW camps. Not to mention that the Luftwaffe was a Nazi haven, Goering's baby. And yet what we see here is more like a group of well fed and contended, sharp and alert vacationers arriving to their resort in the heart of nature. If it wasn't for the guns you could even picture the German guards handing out leaflets with the activities of the day while Hendley looks for a comfy spot where to light up his pipe and engage in some good reading.But things don't get any better as we trod along, as we are next subjected to a stream of usual 60s war flick clichés, not the smallest of them that of the decent, fair, even likable German military officers who "are just doing their duty", as opposed to the dastardly Gestapo and SS goons. If you have seen enough of these U.S-U.K war flicks of the 50s, 60s you got to be familiar with the obvious dichotomy. Now, while I am sure that there were many honest and fair German military fighting in that war—despite the well known complicity of the brass of the Wehrmacht with the atrocities of the Nazis—the fact that they are a staple in these war flicks is not so much due to Hollywood's regard for historical truths as due to necessities of the Cold War, which by the 60s was going full steam. As Germany had gone from enemy to NATO ally, it wasn't anymore sensible to depict their military men as murderous brutes—as it was the case during the war of course—so they got around all it just putting all their bad deeds on the shoulders of the SS and Gestapo. That is the main reason why there are always nice, good, fair Germans in these war flicks.Now, if TGE is already looking pretty unrealistic by the moment McQueen's Hilts appears, with him it turns into a real masquerade. For one, Hilts must be the only man in History who comes out of a month in solitary confinement in a German POW camp looking far better than he did when he got in. With clean clothes—remember, he had entered all covered in mud—impeccable, well groomed, perfectly shaved. (Who washed his clothes, who cut, combed, his hair there, who gave him such clean shaves?) I'm not fan of Guns of Navarone, but compared to this one it looks like Shakespeare because, despite all its shortcomings it still has that aura of reality, is still happening in the real world, it still gives us a sense of what really Nazi occupation looked and felt like, In TGE there is instead there is no tension, no sense of vulnerability, no fear for your life from the part of the POWs. You feel like watching the youthful shenanigans of a bunch of teens in summer camp who, if caught will get just a slap in the wrist. See for ex. that after Tilts physically attacks two guards armed with automatic guns he is just let go scot free, he is not even reprimanded! After that scene you can't possible take TGE seriously. And what about guard Warner, who is smart enough to immediately discover the concealed tunnel but not enough to put the obvious two plus two together, that Hendley was the one who stole his wallet?. But the unrealistic reaches new heights with that Fourth of July parade. The German would have never ever allowed such a thing. No military in the world would ever allow their POWs such kind of display, let alone the Germans, who knew well how dangerous the mix of beer and flag waving could be. All that is pure Hollywood mythology. And to make things even worse, we got Steve McQueen, who every time he is on the screen, no matter what he does, say, he seems to be flaunting his star ratings. Not for a moment he makes you feel you are watching a real POW there, a man that feels impotent because deprived of his freedom, totally vulnerable to the whims and moods of his captors, but instead he gives you all along the feeling that Steve McQueen is all that there is to watch there and the rest is secondary. He feels all along so sure of himself that he can even engage in a staring contest with a SS heavy, a guy who could turn him into dust with a gesture of his little finger. But of course he knows he can do that, after all he is making thousands times more dough for this flick than the other guy, and than everyone else. He is the star here and he will never let them forget it, neither you, the spectator. In all, not worth watching, except for his fans. 3/10.


The Great Escape is one of those films that you could watch time and time again and still love even more with each viewing. Imagine a movie where you would put all the greatest movie stars of their Era in. That's exactly what they did here! The Great Escape is, in my mind, the greatest War movie of all Time. Add to the stellar cast, a score by Legendary Hollywood composer Elmer Bernstein and there you have one of the greatest War movie themes of all Time. A theme with a tune so catchy, so memorable that you might find yourself humming and whistling it as you go through your day. The Great Escape is basically the story of POW during War time in their Nazi detention camp. And what are, not just POW but the best POW, up to in their enemy detention camp? They plan their escape. An escape so ingenious that it involves digging three tunnels at the same time underneath and through their camp to the wood outside. In the main role we have Hollywood Legend, Steve McQueen as Lieutenant Virgil Hilts, a hot shot American pilot who has only one idea in his head, escaping! One of the most interesting scene for me was at the end, when Hilts, recaptured again, is about to be put back in his cell inside the cooler. There you have a German guard ready to put our hero, who incidentally is the personification of the perfect Aryan (according to Hitler), blue eyed and blond hairs, into his cell. As the guard closes the door and walks away from Hilts'cell, he hears the noise of Hilts' baseball bouncing off the walls, back and forth into Hilts' baseball glove. He pauses for an instant as if to ponder whether what he is doing to the embodiment of the perfect German specimen is wrong. He lowers his head, then walks away with his head held down as if to convey that he realizes that what he is doing is indeed wrong and that he could never break Hilts' strong spirit. I highly recommend this all time Classic for all, a masterpiece!